Stranger suicide

I feel lostA lot of students like to write about the deepest, most difficult and gut-wrenching, aspects of human existence. Any time I assign short stories or poetry, I get several attempts at stories about rape, incest, domestic abuse, murder, or, the most common topic for teen fiction, suicide.  Themes I call Lifetime topics.

I cringe when I see Lifetime topics come up, because as compelling as they appear to be, they’re the most difficult to write about with any degree of verisimilitude. Most students don’t have enough experience to create a skeleton of a story about incest, much less to add muscle, blood, and skin to it.

And yet I hate to discourage young writers from whatever topic intrigues them. So one suggestion I make is finding inspiration from a news article, and then writing from a different perspective.

Take for example this real-life story from the Washington Post titled at some length, “A stranger e-mailed saying he planned to kill himself. What was I supposed to do?” I’m over stories about teenagers committing suicide, but I would like to read one about some who receives an email from a stranger saying he or she is going to commit suicide. I wouldn’t necessarily even encourage reading the article. It’s the idea that matters, not the details. And the details from the author’s story could easily corrupt a fresh story.

So I ask you: What would you do if a stranger sent you a suicide note?


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